Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I Hate You

I keep hearing from parents of kids of various ages and sizes that their kids, while in tantrum mode, will declare, "I hate you," or "You never loved me" or things of that ilk. Just hearing that makes my heart hurt. And it's not even coming from my kids. Because my kids don't do that.

I'm not saying this to brag. I'm not even sure what, if anything, it signifies. Sometimes, it even worries me. Does the fact that they never tell me they hate me mean that I've actually succeeded in teaching them about how words have the power to hurt? Or does it mean that I've instilled such fear in them that they don't feel they can say 'anything' to me and know that it will still be OK, that words may hurt but they don't kill love? Are they so aware of my love that they simply don't question it? Or are they afraid that if they question it, they may not get the answer they're looking for?

My kids are (or, in Em's case, have been...and will likely be again) world-class tantrum-throwers. N cries and screams at us on a daily basis. But the words are so much less...strong. They're things like, "FINE!" accompanied by a slamming door. Or "That hurts my feelings!" Or "WhatEVER!" (Yes, that comes from a 7-year-old boy. Yes, it's almost impossible not to laugh at it.) And, of course, I do get called names. But they're names like "Meanie." I can live with that.

Maybe it's just that kids know what their parents are capable of handling? Maybe they just know, intuitively, whether their parent is the type who can take being told, "I hate you," and come back with a cuddle and an "I understand how you feel right now," or whether their parent is the type who would respond to such a statement by bursting into tears (or into a rage). Do you think it's possible that kids actually instinctively tailor their early year rebellions to they type of parent they have?

I have a sort of mantra I used to use all the time whenever I'd get white-hot angry at the kids: As soon as I could pull myself together, I'd make sure to add to whatever tirade I was spewing at them, "Of course, no matter how angry I am at you right now [or...no matter how much I don't like your behavior right now...] I always love you." And nowadays, if I forget to say that when I'm screaming at N to go to his room, he will often look back at me with an anxious face and say, "But you still love me, right?" And even at my angriest, I will be able to manage to say, "I'm not very happy with you, but yes, I still love you." And that seems to make a difference. But if he's all sulky and angry with me and I ask the same thing, he will deny that he still loves me. Or he will say, "I love you, but I really don't love you now." That's as bad as it gets. I'm just not sure if that's a good thing.


Rich | Championable said...

I think it's a difficult honor.

Kids test their parents (and their own newfound sense-of-independence) by hitting them with their biggest guns.

They're testing their own newfound sense of independence on the people they love the most.

Difficult, but an honor.

Green said...

I think it's a lot less deep than you're making it, to be honest. I grew up afraid of my father, and quite close with my mother. One time, when I was around N's age, my mom was sick and in bed. Her being in bed meant I had to be alone with my father and that scared me, and I was angry at my mother for not being able to be around to "protect me" and I was also scared she wouldn't get better and I'd have to be alone with my father a lot.

And so I yelled at my mother that I hated her. I don't remember her reaction - whether she sent me to my room or said she loved me anyway or what. I don't remember whether or not I took it back, apologized, anything.

But I didn't say it again until I was a teenager, and then it was more in the context of "When you do that it makes me hate you."

Jane said...

Neither of my kids has ever told me they hate me and I'm mean as hell to them and never do the "I don't like your behavior but I like YOU" thing. I believe it has (no offense) more to do with the temperament of the kid than the skills of the parent, frankly.

MY kids will tell others they hate me, later in life, on the psychiatrist's couch. AS IT SHOULD BE.

Leila said...

Note: this may show up twice, sorry if it does.

I also think it's a kid personality thing.

Two of mine, to my knowledge, have never said they hated me (or used any of the other 5 or 6 synonyms they have for the word). They've gotten angry, yelled, we've had tantrums, but "I hate you" hasn't come up. "You don't love me" has, though.

The littlest, otoh? Master Manipulatrix, at age 4 3/4, has claimed that she "doesn't like me". And she doesn't like her father or her siblings. She doesn't like any of this and we should go live far far away from her and...

Drama queen, much, that one?

kathy said...

Speaking as the recipient of those three awful words, I think you have to consider the situation. Because of my truly horrific divorce, my kids are in a bad place emotionally right now, they're under acute stress, and they are, as you've said, entirely aware that I can handle their wrath. So while they've told me a lot lately that they hate me, I know it's not true. It may be true in at THAT moment, but the moment will pass.

It's heartbreaking, but I can live with it because I know that's what they need from me. (And because I know that when they're older they're going to look back on this period, remember the hurtful things they've said, and cringe. While bearing gifts)

TC said...

Kath: They'd damned well better be bearing gifts, is all I can say. Actually, after what you've been through, I think they'd better just bring cash. Lots.

(And, funny thing is, I wasn't even thinking of you.)

kathy said...

Yeah, when you didn't include anything about trying to have their mother arrested, I figured you weren't talking about me. (WADS of cash. Thick ones)